Corner Elm, School and Mudnock — A Brief History

This essay is probably only of interest to my fellow Salisbury citizens. . . and maybe a smattering of other people who like small town history.

Here’s an interesting question that many will quickly answer (but, as confident as you may be, you’ll be wrong): What restaurant chain — ubiquitous in New England along its most traveled roads — became known for its 28 flavors of ice cream and its color palette of white, turquoise blue, and orange; and boasted a large windmill at its entrance

If you answered “Howard Johnson’s”, you wouldn’t be far from the mark because Howard Johnson had bought out nearly the entire chain by 1940. “Dutchland Farms” dairy stores (using only Grade A milk for their ice cream) and restaurants began popping up on our “highways” in the late 1920’s. They were the brainchild of Fred Forest Field, a dairy farmer and shoe manufacturer of Brockton, Massachusetts. 

While I hesitate to say that Field had just the right amount of privilege to be able to engage in risky ventures with utter insouciance, he did manage to live comfortably and had a supportive family (especially his older brother Daniel, who brought him on as a partner in at least one of his shoe factories.) Fred’s father ran a large and successful dairy farm, for which Fred drove a milk wagon as one of his earliest jobs. No doubt it was while he was engaged in this work that his energetic imagination took flight with the future possibilities. And much later, while out motoring one day in 1912 in West Falmouth, Massachusetts — not too far from his summer home at Monument Beach, he came upon a Dutch windmill, and determined to buy it. The windmill had been constructed over 100 years earlier by Dutch settlers, so its pedigree provided assurance that it would endure. It didn’t hurt that a one-ton stone mill came with the package, and Fred intended to put it to use grinding corn on his family farm — Dutchland Farms — in the Montello section of Brockton, Massachusetts.

Why I suggest that Fred Field had great imagination is because he could envision in those early days of automobiles a need for accessible pit stops, first for ice cream and farm and dairy products, and (soon after) for simple lunch fare.  It was a natural way to expand on the profitability of his already lucrative dairy farm. The first Dutchland Farms ice cream stands began to appear in 1928, and by 1933, there were at least 50 roadside stands in the region. 

In Salisbury, construction began in early 1933 at the juncture of Elm Street, School Street, and Mudnock Road — right where our public library stands. At that point in time, the unimproved property belonged to Frank V. Brown of Newburyport. (Brown, who was married to Jacob F. Spalding’s daughter Louise, ran the Brown Jewelry Co. in Newburyport for several decades.) The dairy store and ice cream stand in Salisbury would boast the Dutchland Farms name and would be managed by Fred Kennedy of Natick. Brown entered into an indenture agreement with Kennedy in January of 1933, leasing the land to him for four years (with the option to make improvements to the land and erect a business for the purpose of selling dairy products; Kennedy also was given the option to buy out Brown in exchange for $4,000.)

Kennedy never did exercise his right to buy the land. While the property remained in the Brown name until the 1950’s, the various victualers who enticed hungry motorists to their restaurants at that location present a steady and diverse stream of business models. Fred Lupus engaged in extensive repairs in 1936, opening his “Dairy Kitchen” in the spring of that year. By the mid-1940’s, however, management had shifted once again, this time to the business duo of Nicholas DeLuka of Medford and Peter A. Rais, WW2 veteran of Somerville. DeLuka and Rais had worked together in the restaurant business before the war; they called their business the Sheraton Farm Restaurant, continuing fountain service while also enticing hungry travelers with “choice and good dinners”. 

Fred Field’s Dutchland Farms franchise stumbled badly during the Depression, while its most direct competitor —Howard Johnson — was able to steer a steady course through the trying times. By 1940, all the Dutchland Farms restaurants had either closed or been purchased by a proprietor, with the remainder being acquired by Howard Johnson. As part of the arrangement, Howard Johnson appropriated the white, blue, and orange color scheme and the “28 flavors of ice cream”, but Field’s emotional attachment to the windmill that was commonly used as a roof or entry feature must have been well-known within the family, for his son (or whoever was at the helm in 1940 — Fred Sr. had passed away in 1934) refused to allow Johnson to use it for his Howard Johnson restaurants.

Back in Salisbury, meanwhile, the building at the juncture of Elm, School, and Mudnock continued to be occupied by restaurateurs. Briefly, it was The Rainbow Restaurant, run by Earle Sanders. The grand opening, from June 30 – July 5, 1950, hoped to entice patrons by advertising “inspired cooking” by Jim Bevins, “noted chef from the North Shore.” (Newburyport Daily News, June 30, 1950) (Earle and Paul Sanders, brothers, could trace a direct line back to an early settler of Salisbury, John Sanders. As an interesting aside, the saltbox that stands at 1 Mudnock Rd. returned to the family in 2004, after a 352-year absence. The original owner, John Sanders, sold it in 1652. It would take the indefatigable enthusiasm and tenacity of 12th generation direct descendent Paul to bring this happy occasion about.) 

In the spring of 1952, aggressive renovation once again preceded the opening of a new restaurant, “Stromberg’s, Famous for Sea Foods”. The name would have been instantly recognized by those who were familiar with Frank Stromberg’s other restaurant in Salem “at the Beverly Bridge”. Stromberg didn’t just own the business and the building; he held the deed to the land — the first time in 30 years that the land had passed hands. After only two years, however, Stromberg closed the seafood restaurant and sold the building and its contents to a Mr. Charles Hobbs — who proceeded to remove everything off the lot. Stromberg sold the corner lot itself to the Town of Salisbury. Had he found the competition too formidable among the restaurants in the area who likewise offered seafood? Browsing a June edition of the Newburyport Daily News, one sees advertisements for Marston’s at the High Road bridge in Newburyport (a restaurant that originally was a dance hall with vaudeville shows; in 1952 patrons could either take out or dine in), the Lighthouse Grill on Plum Island Point (specializing in clams and seafood, and offering fountain service, as well), The Beachcomber on P.I. Turnpike (the best clams in Essex County, you could order pie, too!), Stonie’s (at the airport); and in Salisbury itself, Clarke’s Seafood (right on Bridge Rd.) and the Little Red Barn (a restaurant serving southern bbq fare, but where you could also order a lobster roll). 

Did it chaff, too, that a Howard Johnson restaurant sat smug and righteous just up the street at the Seabrook circle (where the Town Hall now stands)? Perhaps not. The Dutchland Farms name had by this point in time largely receded in memory — even if each successive restaurant’s grand opening at the corner of Elm, School, and Mudnock made nostalgic references to their earliest forebear. To appreciate how starkly different the trajectories were for Fred Field’s Dutchland Farms and Howard Johnson, by 1952 there were 355 Howard Johnson restaurants ranging along the eastern seaboard. With ambitious plans to expand westward — the early 1950’s encompassed a hopeful era for those wishing to capitalize on the explosion of American mobility — Howard Johnson boasted that they sold more fried clams and hotdogs than any other restaurant chain. (Newburyport Daily News, Sep. 29, 1952)

1954 represented a pivotal moment for the one-acre lot at the corner of Elm, School, and Mudnock. There would be no more restaurants. Instead, the Town had designs for a new library. Initially (in 1954), voters rejected at Town Meeting a proposal to buy the lot and build a new library. A re-worded proposal the following year narrowed the focus: voters were subsequently asked to support the Town purchasing the lot. . . with the ultimate aim to build a new library. Baby steps, I wager, made for a more palatable statement of vision. In June, 1956, ground was broken for the new library. 

And three decades later, the library needs of the Town were once again of great concern.  Dedicated space for meetings, quiet study areas, and general building upgrades became the fuel for battle cries, and so trustees engaged in a prolonged campaign. It would take until May of 2013 for voters to approve a $7.4 million project, half of the funds being promised through state grants. The beautiful building that now stands at the corner of Elm, School, and Mudnock makes a proud statement. It takes effort — at least to this perennial Salisbury neophyte — to imagine an era when cars filled with family would pull up and park, kids spilling out and galloping headlong through the doors to satisfy ferocious hunger pains. . . right at that very same site.  

Fred Field may not have lived long enough to know that his franchise would flounder irrevocably. Such would be a blessing. He wasn’t wrong, though, in his understanding of human nature. The automobile — as soon as it became an attainable acquisition for the average person — resulted in wave upon wave of migratory behavior. It’s hard to say why none of the restaurants managed to fare well in that location. Perhaps the most logical explanation is that the area became too quickly saturated with restaurants competing for hungry customers. 

*********************************

Sources:

Newburyport Daily News (Archives)

(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dutchland_Farms)

Boston Evening Transcript, 16 Oct 1912

(https://restaurant-ingthroughhistory.com/2012/12/05/famous-in-its-day-dutchland-farms/)